EAST LANSING — Russell Byrd hasn't had the beginning he hoped for in his college basketball career. It's tough to have that when he has had three left foot surgeries since arriving at Michigan State. It's even harder when someone known for his shooting accuracy has struggled to find his shot.
But finally, the redshirt sophomore may be finding a new role and starting the second half of his story.
“The injuries have really changed a lot, and I've had to figure out and try to deal with it,” Byrd said. “So, just trying to figure out a different way to do things. Maybe not as much of a shooter but a facilitator.”
This new role was demonstrated in No. 22 Michigan State's most recent game against Purdue on Saturday in East Lansing. The Fort Wayne native and Blackhawk Christian graduate played nine minutes against the Boilermakers and didn't take a single shot, but he did have two rebounds and three assists.
This new style comes because of struggles he's had shooting this season. Byrd has played in 14 of the Spartans 15 games this year, averaging just over 10 minutes per contest. But his shooting percentage is 29.3 percent, including only 18.8 percent from 3-point range.
Part of this Byrd directly attributes to his injuries. He said his body feels completely different and he isn't athletic anymore, but that hasn't stopped him from trying to find a way to contribute.
After his early season struggles, the Michigan State co-captain spent time over winter break with his dad working on the basics.
“I think his Dad gave him a lot of help to be honest with you, and you know, getting back to his roots and what he is and not letting everything get to him,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “He's been so much more under control (since returning from break), and he's letting the game come to him now.”
Izzo added, “It hasn't all showed in the game you saw today, but it's shown a lot in practice.”
Izzo didn't overlook the progress and change. The head coach played Byrd in the first half of the Purdue game for a few minutes because he said he earned and deserved it.
It gives hope that Byrd may be able to continue to find a growing role on a team wanting to win a Big Ten Championship in a loaded conference and go deep in the NCAA Tournament.
“I just need to be solid and take care of the ball and be a facilitator,” Byrd said about his role going forward this season. “Just doing my job out there and not being a liability.”
Byrd's next chance to prove himself is Thursday when Michigan State travels to Iowa. And while he isn't overlooking any opponent, a certain team from Bloomington and his home state is less than a month away on the schedule.
“I mean, I respect them, just like I respect Purdue, but I'm a Spartan and I want to beat those guys really bad, and I plan on doing that,” Byrd said. “It's going to be a team effort, and I'm sure it's going to be a great game, and I'm looking forward to it.”
While Byrd is looking toward the game against Indiana, his team and coach are just hoping he continues this progression for the second half of this season and his career. If he can do that, he would make Michigan State even more dangerous than the Spartans currently are.
“If he keeps on progressing, that would be a real help to us because now you've got a guy with size who can rebound a little bit and a guy who can make shots,” Izzo said. “So, I'm really optimistic that he's starting to make some strides.”